Discuss the evolution of United States foreign policy from 1919 to 1962

7 July 2016

From WWI to the Cold War, the period from 1919 to 1962 is one that is packed with conflict. However, the US’s response to conflict wasn’t always the same. There was a progressive evolution from Isolationism to Interventionism in American foreign policy in the twentieth century in the name of international peace.

Shortly after the capitulation of Germany at the end of WWI, Wilson, then president of the United States proposed the fourteen points, a document that would heavily influence the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the League of Nations, the first international system to have been put into place. However, Wilson did not have the consent of the then Republican dominated senate, which refused to join the League of Nations, therefore rendering it useless.

Discuss the evolution of United States foreign policy from 1919 to 1962 Essay Example

This is first and foremost the prime example of American Isolationism during the 20th century. Following WWI, the US refused to take place in international affairs and desired to remain a neutral state, isolated from European and Asian affairs and conflicts. Furthermore, FDR’s good neighbor policy offers a strong isolationist stance with Latin America, in attempts to clear its past of interventionism and open new trading routes and alliances.

It is questionable, though, whether this stance was true isolationism. While the US may have wanted to stay out of direct political affiliations, and created policies such as the “good neighbor policy”, it still had strong economic interests as well as diplomatic influence over Europe, with the intention of keeping international peace. The Washington Naval Conference of 1922, held in Washington D.C, was hosted in the goals of achieving major naval disarmament.

The world’s nine major powers: United States, Britain, China, France, Japan, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Portugal with the exception of the USSR met from November of 1921 to February of 1922 to discuss the major foreign policy in the 1920s: disarmament. Although widely regarded as a successful international disarmament movement, this shows that the US’s isolationism policy wasn’t fully isolationist. Furthermore, the US also had economic involvement during the 1920s with the Dawes plan of 1924, another US-lead conference this time in order to ease and reduce the reparation costs of Germany due to WWI.

This plan was put in place to ease Germany’s way back into economic stability and thus reduce the chance of a political breakdown. These plans, while not promoting American engagement and involvement in any present or future conflicts still place the US in a major role of international diplomacy, role which will continue to increase as new threats arise.

With the arrival of two big threats to freedom, the US changes its policy from pseudo-isolationism to open neutrality as the conflict becomes inevitable. In addition to the ever growing threat of Hitler, in 1933, the US finally diplomatically recognizes the USSR. Although during this period of Great Depression Americans wanted to focus on domestic policy and fixing the crisis rather than wage another overseas battle, FDR could not turn a blind eye on the issues in Europe.

The neutrality acts of 1935, 1936 and 1937 are the example that the world knows war is inevitable, and are the preventive measures the US are taking in order to remain neutral. They state that the US shall not undergo with arms shipment once the war breaks out, and that it shall not loan money to belligerent countries. During the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1937, the US also remained neutral and refused to intervene, creating the third and previously mentioned Neutrality act of 1937. Also in 1937, the US continues to maintain its neutral stance when China is invaded by Japan, and while the US sympathizes with China, it does not intervene. The change from the neutral stance back to the interventionist stance in foreign policy occurs gradually over the course of WWII.

As the horrors of WWII become more and more known to the public, there is a change is public opinion trending more and more towards helping Europe. FDR relentlessly tries to pass new legislature like the Lend-Lease program in order to help and supply allies with food and arms, while still technically remaining neutral as in on the side lines. The US gave a total of over $50Billion dollars over the course of the war to help the Allies fight off the Nazi and Japanese threat. The turning point of US foreign policy in the 20th century is certainly the attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred on December 7th 1941. This single event changed the course of WWII and of history as it became the turning point in which the US decided to enter the War.

The US entered the War in the end of 1941, and contributed to the victory of the Allied forces in 1945. With Nazi Germany gone, the US’ primary rival was the USSR. To fight the communist block and the spread of communism itself, the US adopted an aggressive interventionist policy all around. It, along with most of the trans-Atlantic region sign the NATO treaty in 1949, successfully forming an alliance primarily made to counter the USSR. An attack against any member of the treaty would be considered an attack against them all.

While this is a method of attaining peace via fear of retaliation, it is no less of an aggressive measure taken against any potential aggressors. During the 50s all the way to the end of the Cold War, the US took a stance against the spread of communism. The US containment policy was made in response to the Red Scare that happened inside the country and in the non-communist world. The US saw communists and communism as a whole as a threat to the freedom and liberty in the world. To defend those values, and contain communism around the world, the US intervened in many proxy wars. The Korean War raged from 1950 to 1953 and was the first engagement of the cold war. It’s a prime example on how the US tried to contain communism to the Russian block and tried to keep it from spreading into Asia.

Sadly, it was unsuccessful in doing so and North Korean is still communist as of Today. The Eisenhower doctrine in 1957, which stated that the US would use armed forces upon request of imminent or actual aggression, also shows that it was ready to intervene whenever a government was threatened to be overthrown by communist insurgents.

The US has had different approaches and stances with its foreign policy along the 20th century, evolving from isolationism to full scale interventionism.

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